6 Things Children Shouldn’t Be Responsible For

What is one trait that you want your children to have now and when they grow older? 

Most common response would be, “I want them to be responsible.” 

Responsible encompasses many things, which include (The Center for Parenting Education, n.d.): 

  • being dependable so people know they can count on you,
  • keeping one’s promise and agreements,
  • fulfilling one’s commitments,
  • doing something to the best of one’s ability,
  • being accountable for one’s behaviour,
  • accepting credit when you do things right and acknowledging mistakes,
  • being a contributing member of one’s family, community and society.

Teaching children responsibility is actually healthy, however the responsibility that they shoulder should be appropriate to their age. 

So now, let’s take a look at 6 things children shouldn’t be responsible for: 

  1. Mediating conflict between parents 

“Why didn’t you fetch him early from school?! Did you forget this time around too? His teacher called me, saying he was waiting all by himself at the bus stop. Do you not care about him getting kidnapped or something?!!” your mother snapped at your father as soon as your father stepped into the house.

“No, you are the one telling me you would fetch him!” your father raised his voice, he was obviously fuming. 

Your mother was very mad that she reached for the jam jar and broke it onto the floor. You were watching the outbursts and felt stunned. You could not bear the shouting, you felt physically sick watching your parents fight in front of you, so you say to them, meekly “Mom, Dad, I’m home now. I’m fine. Nobody is kidnapping me.” 

A psychologist at Notre Dame University, E. Mark Cunmings stated that, “Children are like emotional Geiger counters.” 

Study has shown that parents’ distress can be detected by a child as young as 6 months old. These children can detect argumentative tones leading to potential alterations of the brain due to stress. However, we need to differentiate between fighting and disagreeing. When parents fight, it creates an emotional distress which can lead to short and long-term negative effects on children’s emotional, psychological, and social development. On the contrary, when parents disagree in front of the children in a balanced and emotionally uncharged way, it can be a lesson to the child that conflict is normal. A therapist Glucoft Wong believes that home is a training ground for real life, “Little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening.” In other words, parents should be mindful while having arguments in front of their child and they should learn how to resolve conflict well. It’s not the child’s responsibility to mediate the conflict between the parents (Divecha, 2014). 

2. Raising their siblings 

Your 3-month-old daughter is crying. You are working from home and you are busy completing your work project. You think your child is asking for milk. You then ask your 3-year-old son to make the formula milk and feed it to her. 

Psych2goers, have you heard of parentification? The definition of parentification as given by Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark (1973) is “the distortion or lack of boundaries between and among family subsystems, such that children take on the roles and responsibilities usually reserved for adults.”

The type of parentification shown in the above example is instrumental parentification. This is when children are given the responsibility beyond their level of ability and comprehension, such as paying the bills, cooking dinner for their younger siblings, booking medical appointments, and getting their younger siblings ready for school. 

Aude Henin, PhD, Co-Director of the Child Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy Program stated that not all childhood responsibilities are regarded as parentification. Two important questions that need to be asked: 

  • Whose needs are being met? 
  • Is the demand age-appropriate? 

Dr. Henin stated that giving a child age-appropriate chores is actually healthy as it can lead to the development of skills and competence. 

3. Regulating a parent’s emotions 

You are 30 minutes late to pick up your child from his baseball practice. When he gets in the car, you say to him, “Today was a really bad day at work! My supervisor yelled at me and I was stuck in an awful traffic jam!” 

Your son reassures you, “Oh wow, I am sorry to hear that, Dad. That sounds like such an awful day for you.” 

When a child feels responsible for the emotional needs of their parents and other siblings, they are actually exhibiting emotional parentification. 

What effects do emotional parentification have on the children? Cicchetti & Toth (1995) stated that not every parentified child would go on having negative after effects. Study has shown that this will only affect 25 percent of all children who experience neglect. These children may later be involved in relationships with someone who requires caring. They may also experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) (DiCaccavo, 2005). 

4. Fulfilling their parents’ unmet needs 

You are devastated that your husband does not seem to have the time to listen to your worries. He is always busy at work and he always spends time resting and sleeping to recuperate. So you decide to spill out your everyday concern to your 6-year-old son instead. 

Another type of emotional parentification is when a child has to meet a parent’s emotional needs. This child becomes a confidant for the parent. This is a common occurrence among a spouse whose emotional needs are not met by one’s partner. Thus, one will then try to obtain the emotional needs from the child. The latter will soon learn to suppress their own needs which will affect their normal development (De Victoria, 2008). The child may also be a “people pleaser”, in which one may always concentrate on fulfilling other people’s needs instead of honouring what one feels. 

5. Easing a parent’s anxiety 

Your eldest child has been diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctor advises that he needs to undergo an operation which requires a lot of money. You feel anxious and distraught, since you don’t have enough money for the operation. You then confess to your second child that you are really anxious and break down in front of him. 

According to a licensed clinical psychologist, Becky Kennedy, PhD, when a parent goes to their child for comfort, it can also be known as emotional parentification. The child may be giving advice on grown-up situations and this emotional support is not reciprocated by the parents (Harris, 2021). 

6. Fulfilling a parent’s dream 

Your father has always wanted to be a lawyer, but that dream was not realized, so he always wanted you to be one, and told you should get a law degree. Deep down, you always wanted to pursue a career as a graphic designer. 

Psych2goers, do you know, the phenomenon that parents want to live vicariously through their children was theorized by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. A doctoral psychology student, Eddie Brummelman and his colleagues tried to test the idea by conducting a survey for 73 parents of at least one 8- to 15-year-old child. The parents were first questioned how much they view their child as an extension of themselves. Second, they underwent a writing task, in which they were required to write either about their unfulfilled ambitions or the failed ambitions of an acquaintance. Lastly, the parents were given questions about their desire to have their child fulfill ambitions that they themselves fail to do so. It was demonstrated from this study that when parents reflect on an acquaintance’s failed dreams, the former is not influenced to desire the same ambition for their own child. However, reflection on their own unfulfilled ambitions causes the parents to hope that their child could fulfill those dreams (Pappas, 2013). 

Final thoughts 

All children need to learn about responsibility so that they will reach their full potential. Parents should actually model the right kind of behaviour so that they will learn how to be responsible to their friends, family members, neighbours, and the community. It is actually great to assign a specific task for the child to do at home such as folding the laundry, taking out the garbage, setting and clearing the table. However, it is very important that parents should be mindful that the tasks given to the children should be age-appropriate. 

REFERENCES 

Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Spark, G. (1973). Invisible loyalties: Reciprocity in intergenerational family therapy. Hagerstown, MD: Harper & Row.

Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. (1995). A developmental psychopathology perspective on child abuse and neglect. Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 34, 541-565.

De Victoria , S. L. (2008, August 15). Harming your child by making him your parent. Psych Central. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/harming-your-child-by-making-him-your-parent#1.

DiCaccavo, A. (2006). Working with parentification: Implications for clients and counselling psychologists. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 79, 469-478.

Divecha, D. (2014, April 30). What happens to children when parents fight. Developmental Science. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2014/04/30/what-happens-to-children-when-parents-fight.

Harris, N. (2021, April 26). What is parentification? spotting the warning signs and how to let kids be kids. Parents. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.parents.com/kids/development/what-is-parentification-spotting-the-warning-signs-and-how-to-let-kids-be-kids/.

Pappas, S. (2013, June 19). It’s true: Some parents want to live through their kids. LiveScience. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.livescience.com/37559-parents-living-vicariously-through-children.html.

The Center for Parenting Education. (n.d.). Teaching responsibility to children. The Center for Parenting Education. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/responsibility-and-chores/developing-responsibility-in-your-children/.

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